THE NEW YORKER: The Fragile Existence of Sex Workers During the Pandemic

With each passing day, the strip club in downtown Manhattan grew a little emptier. Fewer customers were drinking premium liquor and eating steaks in the plush banquettes; fewer patrons were sitting at the edge of the blue-lit stage; fewer clients were throwing dollar bills at the dancers performing on poles or in their laps. “It felt weird. There was an air of desperation, almost,” Nico, a dancer at the club, told me. As the city slowly woke up to the spread of the coronavirus this spring, so, too, did the dancers at clubs across town, whose work necessitates being physically close to strangers: talking to them, consoling them, and entertaining them. By late March, most of New York’s strip clubs had shut down—clubs in much of the rest of the country did, too—and, now, like hundreds of thousands of other workers, at the very least, in the sex industry, dancers are facing not only a drop in employment but also discrimination and stigma as they search for relief. Nico, who describes stripping as her economic “safety net,” said, “This line of work has the word ‘independent’ built into the job description. The club was not going to take care of us. We were left to fend for ourselves.”

The pandemic has created a catastrophic health and economic crisis that has illuminated the fragile existence of low-wage and gig workers in the United States. The experience of sex workers, who find the most stable work as independent contractors, is no different. (Some strip clubs offer workers employee status, but they are in the minority; in Nevada, where prostitution is legal in some counties, workers at brothels are considered independent contractors.) Like undocumented workers who are barred from getting government benefits in exchange for their labor, and prison laborers who receive little consideration of their rights as workers, sex workers have few places to turn for help. Federal law bars the issuance of disaster loans and grant assistance to applicants who “present live performances of a prurient sexual nature” or who earn income “through the sale of products or services, or the presentation of any depictions or displays, of a prurient sexual nature.” Strippers, pornography performers, and owners of sex-toy and other adult-entertainment businesses are ineligible. Sex workers who make their money on the street and cannot access public assistance are also wary of trying to access social services, for fear of being arrested.

Sex is unlike any other commodity. It is, for some people, tied to emotional beliefs about morality and pleasure and power. It is, for many others, tied to those same things, but it can be transactional and unsentimental, too—a service. Despite many parts of the sex business becoming legal, its laborers still see themselves either glamorized in popular culture as high-earning hustlers or portrayed as victims of trauma and manipulation. Political and social stigmas limit the recognition of their basic rights as workers. “People don’t realize that most labor is exploitative under capitalism,” Meagan, an organizer and former escort and stripper in Washington State, told me. “Looking at sex work from a puritanical view is deeply ingrained in society.”

Maya, a sex worker and undocumented immigrant from Honduras, has worked on and off for several years in different sectors of the industry, from pornography to full-service escorting. When President Trump entered office, in 2017, and threatened to disband the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (daca) program, of which Maya is a recipient, she decided to restart sex work and go into it full time. “I wanted to insure that, if I lost my right to work, I would still be able to earn an income underground and survive,” she said. It also lets her pay her daca renewal fees. Undocumented people who are found prostituting, which is classified as a misdemeanor in the state of New York, can be arrested and deported.

Of the dozen or so sex workers whom I talked to, some qualified for unemployment if they had paid taxes as independent contractors, and they were still trying to apply for it. Others did not qualify but had savings or family to lean on. And still others were doing whatever they could to piece together a living. Most were also hoping for the generosity of past clients and mutual aid from within their communities. One young single mother, who works as an escort and performs in Internet pornography in California, told me that most women she knew in the industry were trying to provide for their families. “They grew up in poverty, and they want to make sure their kids don’t have that same life style,” she said. She added that she was trying to decide if she could safely break quarantine and see clients by letting her daughter stay with a relative; every time she posts an advertisement, she becomes anxious and takes it down. She still sees a client whom she refers to as her sugar daddy, who does not want sexual interactions.

Lily, a dancer at a strip club in Manhattan and an actress, said that she started taking classes in burlesque and decided to try stripping after she grew tired of earning little in restaurants. She enjoys the dancing and the financial freedom the work gives her, but says that other parts of it are difficult to handle. “People think that this work does not deserve dignity or respect,” she said. Tea Antimony, a sex worker and organizer with the Brooklyn chapter of Sex Workers Outreach Project, said the stigmas of sex work reflect social prejudices. “We are yet again seeing how race, class, and immigration status intersect in terms of which work is defined as valid,” she said. “Sex work, like other feminized labor, is defined as not valid.”

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The Fragile Existence of Sex Workers During the Pandemic by Alexis Okeowo

May 21, 2020


ROLLING STONE: Sex Workers Built OnlyFans. Now They Say They’re Getting Kicked Off

Last March, Allie Awesome, an adult-content creator, woke up one Sunday morning to check her DMs on OnlyFans, only to realize she couldn’t log into her account. Launched in 2016, OnlyFans is a social network that allows creators to monetize their content by selling directly to their fans for the cost of a monthly subscription. Awesome, who joined the platform last year, says it constitutes about a quarter of her revenue. When she couldn’t log in, “I knew something was up,” she says.

Awesome emailed customer support, only to be told her account had been deactivated due to evidence of a chargeback, a term used to describe a customer calling their credit card company to report a fraudulent charge after a purchase. “I was like ‘something is weird here,’ so I kept emailing them,” she says. “They were telling me it was permanently deactivated, there was nothing they could do, and my customers were being refunded,” which would’ve taken funds directly out of her balance (though her customers said they were ultimately not refunded).

Unable to figure out what to do, Awesome emailed Alana Evans, the president of the Adult Performers Actors’ Guild, and tweeted about the incident. A few days later, she received a message saying her account had been reinstated, and that the issue had been a “glitch” in the system. But by then, she had received dozens of messages from other adult performers saying similar things had happened to their OnlyFans accounts.

OnlyFans bills itself as a content-subscription service for influencers and creators to directly monetize their content. But historically, it’s primarily been known as a platform for adult-content creators, or anyone wishing to post content too racy for Instagram. (Little is known about its parent company, the London-based Fenix International Limited, though according to a New York Times profile, one of its directors, Leo Radvinsky, is the founder of adult-cam site MyFreeCams.) Creators take about 80 percent of their earnings, with OnlyFans taking a cut of approximately 20 percent.

“It has appealed to sex workers as it’s a better mousetrap than that of building your own website, finding a biller, doing all the admin work, and producing content. It also lowered the bar for sex workers to be able to profitably get into the game,” says Amberly Rothfield, an adult-marketing educator and consultant. “I am hard-pressed to find [an adult model] who isn’t using it anymore.”

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Sex Workers Built OnlyFans. Now They Say They’re Getting Kicked Off by EJ Dickson

May 18, 2020


DAILY DOT: Everything you need to know about giantess vore—and why it’s so big

Sasquatch, Godzilla, King Kong, Loch Ness. Goblin, ghoul, a zombie with no conscience. What do these things all have in common? None of them are quite as popular as giantess vore.

Giantess porn often involves some form of vore, and for many size fetishists, the idea makes perfect sense. If you’re on the outside, a deep dive into the macro world’s underbelly will tell you everything you need to know about why this kink is so popular.

What is giantess vore?

Giantess vore is a shorthand term for any kink scenario in which a gigantic woman consumes another, smaller person. Also referred to as macrophilia (macro) and vorarephilia (vore), giantess vore involves a predator-prey dynamic that parallels Dominance and submission (D/s). In most cases, the giantess usually serves as the Dominant, with the person she devours as the submissive. Some artists enjoy reversing the dynamic, but that’s more of an exception than the rule.

Giantess vore is a popular part of the macrophilia community for many reasons. The two fetishes have a lot in common: Both are otherworldly power fantasies that involve an overbearing, powerful woman and her smaller victim. Themes of submission, sadomasochism, and total control are prominent in both kinks, and vore plays well with other adjacent macro kinks, such as foot fetishism or crushing.

Because macro and vore content commonly walk hand-in-hand, many giantess vore fans discover one side of the kink and fall into the other. Macro artist Spitty said their entry into the fetish was through vore artwork, although they now see themselves primarily as a giantess content creator.

“Vore is just one possible expression of the dynamic between a giant person and a tiny person,” Spitty told the Daily Dot. “I think the appeal lies in the absurd display of power, the dominant-submissive relationship escalated into a primal predator-prey relationship. But there are many people who dig the intimacy of being completely inside another (or of another being completely inside you) and through digestion becoming one.”

Giantess vore is a popular fantasy among straight men who are already into giantesses, but the size kink community has long appealed to queer creators and kinksters. Arctic Giantess is a bisexual switch who began creating her own macro vore videos and photos in 2015 after she felt “frustrated by the lack of fetishist-inspired work” available for size kinksters. While her intro into size play and vore was through taking on the prey role, she says she’s since “grown” into being a giantess (pun intended).

“There’s a lot of great content out there, but a lot of the models themselves don’t actually have the fetishes they’re aiming to cater towards. I wanted to see more content that matched what I liked, and I thought there was no better way than to create it myself,” she told the Daily Dot.

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Everything you need to know about giantess vore—and why it’s so big by Ana Valens

May 1, 2020


ROOTED IN RIGHTS: Why BDSM is a Healing Practice for My Mental Health

Tighter. Please. Keep my mind still. Help my mind stay in this body. I pray to anyone who will listen. Winding, twisting, knotting, allowing myself to be tied into place. Tying the knots so tight my mind will not stray away from me. Wrapped in red cottons, black hemp and Costco rope. All in attempts to wrangle my mind to calm. So that I am present for my own worship. A safe, consensual, kink that encourages risks, evokes healing, and for me, demands presence.

With my diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder, there are definitely times I feel my brain doesn’t belong to me. I find that choosing to take medication, attending culturally relevant forms of healing, therapy, getting outta bed in the morning, eating, showering, (the list goes on and on), are all conscious efforts I make each day – many of which folks take for granted. So for this queer, intelligent, witty, neurodivergent, Brown cutie, feeling “better” is so hard to do that at this point, I’ll try anything that I haven’t already.

Do I sound fed up to you? Because I am. I constantly feel like I’m convincing my mind to stay with me and be kind. Trying to remember what it’s like to feel beautiful through the haze that is often my mind requires so much patience with myself.  So when I allow myself into submission, I’m letting go completely of the vain desires to be in control. I’m clearing away the static sounds of chaos inside my head, an image I liken to tons of sand falling inside my head, causing so much discomfort in my skin, making me feel like my purest thoughts of joy, bliss, roaring laughter, rivers of healing tears and orgasms are being suffocated away.

 

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Why BDSM is a Healing Practice for My Mental Health by Hablo Rodriguez-Williams 

November 20, 2018


TITS AND SASS: Sex Workers - You can and should request pandemic relief

So we’re about a month into strip clubs being shut down. Before that, most in-person sex workers had already been worried about the potential of getting or spreading COVID-19 (the illness caused by the coronavirus) at work, and probably noticed a significant dip in business. Most times we’d be SOL when it comes to accessing unemployment benefits, since save for dancers at a handful of strip clubs, we’re not employees on payroll. But that changed when Congress passed the CARES Act in March, which expanded unemployment benefits to independent contractors.

There have been a lot of misleading screenshots and headlines implying that sex workers are excluded from pandemic relief. While it’s true that some adult entertainment businesses are theoretically excluded from the Small Business Administration’s disaster loans, sex workers as workers are just as eligible for stimulus payments and the expanded unemployment assistance that’s out there as any worker. Even if you’ve been operating as a business, you’re eligible as a sole proprietor to apply for unemployment now (Unfortunately, that only goes for citizens and permanent residents. If you are an undocumented worker in need of help, there are a lot of sex worker mutual aid funds that are prioritizing workers who can’t access government aid. Here are a few lists of those funds and resources for finding help. This COVID-19 resource post from Kate D’Adamo on Slixa also has information on other types of help available for all workers, as well as some myth busting on those Small Business Administration loans—you can still apply, and though there’s a chance you’ll be denied, you might just get it. “The definition of that term [“prurient sexual performance”] is based on the application of what’s called the Miller obscenity test,” D’adamo writes, “and a lot of things are actually fine – sex shops, sex educators, probably even strip clubs. Where it gets trying is anything involving the internet, because of competing court decisions that the Supreme Court hasn’t weighed in on.” D’adamo also notes that the whole process is a “clusterfuck” because banks don’t have enough information from the Fed to process applications, and “no one’s getting shit from anyone anytime soon, prurient sex-related or not.”)

There are two main types of assistance for individuals available: The one-time $1200 ($2400 for married couples and an additional $500 per child) Economic Impact Payments from the federal government, and the expanded unemployment benefits that cover the self-employed. Unemployment benefits are administered at the state level, so you’ll need to find your state’s unemployment website to start a claim. Maybe you’ve heard that the pandemic levels of unemployment have swamped unemployment claims? It’s not a great process to begin with, and having to revamp the whole deal hasn’t gone quickly or smoothly. But it’s a good idea to go ahead and start on the process. Supposedly workers will be able to get back payments, so try to get records of everything you can dating back to when you had to stop working due to the pandemic.

Here’s how to get started.

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Sex Workers - You can and should request pandemic relief by Bubbles

April 14, 2020


NYTIMES: Sex Work Comes Home

While working as a stripper in Oregon, Kelpie Heart had long thought about taking her work online. Then the new coronavirus pandemic led to bar closures, and she found herself out of work.

So, for the last month, Ms. Heart has begun streaming performances from home, doing one live show a week.

As 16 million people in the United States have applied for unemployment benefits in the last three weeks, a rush of people like Ms. Heart have sought new work performing in sexually explicit live broadcasts. And, as nearly half the world is under some form of stay-at-home orders, people who do this work are also seeing a large growth in customers.

Ms. Heart is streaming on CamSoda, one of many webcam or “camming” sites that stream live online broadcasts. Generally called “cam models,” these people might strip or dance on camera while viewers message them. The performers work for tips, to accommodate laws that regulate sex work.

Daryn Parker, the vice president of CamSoda, said there had been a 37 percent increase in new model sign-ups this March, compared to last March. For the same period, Bella French, the co-founder and C.E.O. of ManyVids, another camming site, said that there was a 69 percent increase in new model sign-ups.

This growth is met by a recent influx of new viewers. At CamSoda, the number of new viewers to the site has doubled this year when compared to early 2019, according to the company.

But this growth isn’t always translating into more money for the models. Mileena Kane, 24, a popular cam model for CamSoda, said people think she’s making easy money right now. While she has noticed new viewers, her earnings are static. In Ms. Kane’s experience, new viewers aren’t tipping as much as they typically would. Each site makes money by taking some percentage of the tips.

“I’m meeting a whole bunch of people more frequently than I normally would, but there’s not much more money,” said Ms. Kane.

Before the new coronavirus pandemic, some models also partook in other forms of sex work, like stripping, pornography and escort services. Others worked at bars in the evening and cammed when they had the time; some held office jobs.

Now, many have one job. And for models who cam full-time, the work can be all consuming. Ms. Kane cams for 12 hours a day, almost every day of the year, she said, and only took two days off last year. Though this schedule is physically exhausting, she said it’s worth it.

“That’s just something that comes with being an entrepreneur,” Ms. Kane said. “I’m trying to work as hard as I can while I’m young so I don’t have to later.”

For Ms. Kane, who calls herself a “camholic,” falling in love with the job depended on making it her own. During her long streams, she prioritizes her comfort: She wears pajamas, eats snacks and dances.

Allie Awesome, a cam model, works around 60 hours a week, she said. Her workday begins right after waking up, when she looks through her social media notifications and checks in on her customers. (She declined to give her age, as did many of the subjects in this article, because doing so, they said, could lower their tips or jeopardize their safety. Many of these subjects are using their professional names.)

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Sex Work Comes Home by Gabrielle Drolet

April 10, 2020


BBC: Coronavirus, Offline sex workers forced to start again online

Most sex workers meet customers in person. For them, the coronavirus spells economic ruin.

"The virus is a disaster for client-facing businesses - and sex work is no different," says Goddess Cleo, a dominatrix from London.

"Most of my income is generated from one-on-one sessions and events. I [normally] only make a bit of money through online avenues."

But like many others, Cleo has switched focus to digital since the lockdown came into effect.

Online dominatrix Eva de Vil says: "There's lots of new girls joining the scene right now - or offline sex workers moving online to help with finances."

And she has seen a growing appetite from her clientele for isolation-themed roleplay "clips" - on-demand videos not filmed live.

"It's not so hard for established cam girls like me to adapt to coronavirus. We're used to working [online] and from home," she adds.

Not so easy

But for many client-facing sex workers, moving online is not a simple solution.

"It's not about flashing ya nipple and earning big bucks", wrote UK sex worker Gracey on Twitter.

"It takes ages to gain an online following and even longer for [them] to buy your content."

Using the online platforms means having to give them a cut of earnings.

And there is a need to invest in equipment, including "tripod, decent lighting, sex toys, et cetera", which can be challenging to acquire during the lockdown.

"The marketing requires so much effort, it is unreal," Gracey says.

"I'm not brave enough to [be] naked online and [receive audience] criticism.

"The emotional labour that goes into camming is unreal - constantly chatting, trying to be yourself [and] pleasant."

Privacy is another concern.

It is much harder to hide one's identity online and video content can be stolen.

In February, for example, London-based OnlyFans saw 1.5TB of content-makers' pre-recorded videos and images leaked.

UK sex worker Lizzy says camming has become even more competitive since the pandemic began.

And data from the world's largest "camming" websites supports this.

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Coronavirus; Offline sex workers forced to start again online by Sebastian Shehadi and Miriam Partington

April 7, 2020


HUFFPOST: Legal Sex Workers And Others In Adult Industry Denied Coronavirus Aid

When Congress passed the massive $2 trillion bailout bill last week, it made sure that self-employed people or other independent workers could apply for loans or grants from the Small Business Administration. But there was one very specific ― and puritanical ― exception: legal sex workers and others in the adult entertainment industry.

The very first page of the online application says that in order to be an “eligible entity” that can receive monetary relief from the bill, an applicant cannot “present live performances of a prurient sexual nature or derive directly or indirectly more than de minimis gross revenue through the sale of products or services, or the presentation of any depictions or displays, of a prurient sexual nature.”

Prurient, which is defined by Oxford as “having or encouraging an excessive interest in sexual matters,” is a vague categorization that broadly includes thousands of workers in the U.S. As stated, the clause excludes everyone who works in the legal (and, worth noting, booming) sex industry including strippers, porn performers, producers, directors, sex toy manufactures and many others. It’s unclear whether this clause includes other professions that don’t explicitly deal in the sex industry, but do cover subjects that are of a “prurient sexual nature” such as sex therapists and authors of erotica novels.

“It’s so dehumanizing,” Jacqueline Frances, a stripper, comedian and author, told HuffPost. “They’re asking all of us, who work legally, to feel ashamed about what we do. They are actively making life harder for sex workers in this crisis.”

Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at progressive think tank The Century Foundation, said it “makes zero sense” for any legal workers to be denied aid. “The relief packages passed thus far have neglected ― and often explicitly excluded ― the most vulnerable workers. Sex workers are no exception,” he told HuffPost.

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Legal Sex Workers And Others In Adult Industry Denied Coronavirus Aid by Alanna Vagianos

April 2, 2020


DAZED: 6 international erotic artists discuss freedom, kink, and censorship online

Sex and nudity are against Instagram’s community guidelines, which has triggered a plethora of creative eroticism that manages to swerve the platform’s censorship guidelines. Beyond photography of juicy peaches getting fingered and vagina-like flowers, illustration is the most explicit trend. The platform’s a treasure trove of fantasy fetishes and sexual pleasure painted in colourful cartoon graphics, with fluid brush strokes that make penis close-ups look majestic. If you don’t see sex as beautiful, then after a few scrolls on erotic art accounts, you will.

Some accounts are approaching the depiction of sex through an historical and anthropological lens. Sexual paintings and drawings existed in Ancient Rome, India, Persia and the Americas, then came to Europe later in the 18th century. Before then, there’s evidence of seductive nude subjects like Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” from 1534, and early 17th century paintings of women engaging in metaphoric sexual acts with birds, based on the Greek myth of Zeus turning into a swan to seduce Leda.

Sexual pleasure is universally relatable but it has always been taboo in the art world. Even as late as 1970, John Lennon’s graphic lithographs of Yoko Ono were taken down by police from an exhibition in London, and the 276-year-old art institution and auction house Sotheby’s only held its first ever erotic art sale just three years ago.

In 2020 though, thanks to all the regramming, sensual illustration has finally gone mainstream. It’s become a sex-positive movement, giving viewers a poetic perspective to celebrate manifestations of sexual pleasure. Interest piqued? Get to know the artists and illustrators re-drawing sex for the next generation online below.

ROBIN EISENBERG

Los Angeles-based artist Robin Eisenberg curates a wet dream-like perspective of outer space, full of pastel neon, sexually-charged alien females with realistically curvaceous physiques. It’s a place to eat pizza, send nudes, draw dick pics, and then lose yourself in passionate sex with all genders. A self-love sanctuary in the stars.

Why do you choose to explore sex in your art?

Robin Eisenberg: Sex and sexuality are such honest and powerful things, I really love exploring that in my drawings. I’ve always loved focusing on relatable and intimate moments, so it feels natural to incorporate sex. Maybe my art can help people to feel more comfortable with their own sexuality and their own bodies.

Why do female bodies inspire you?

Robin Eisenberg: It’s incredibly fulfilling to draw these alien superbabes who are so comfortable and cozy in their own skin. It makes me feel more comfortable with myself. I always hope that people who see my art come away from it with that same feeling. It makes me so happy when people tell me that they see their own body in my work and it makes them feel good about themselves.

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6 internal erotic artists discuss freedom, kink, and censorship online by Sadie Bargeron

April 1, 2020


VICE: How quarantine is inviting us to get creative with our kinks

Inspiration from the fetish-scene has been a solid undercurrent in the fashion industry for decades. Vivienne Westwood sold bondage gear to the punks in the seventies, Thierry Mugler’s outrageous creations in the 80s and 90s almost without exception had a dominatrix-energy going and the 1992 Versace S&M-dress is a staple in the wardrobe of every self-respecting celebrity.

Now, once again, fetish has come out of the dungeon and onto the catwalks. Last year, Louis Vuitton’s glittered-up harnesses made their way from the sex-party to the award show, worn by stars like Timothee Chamelet and Michael Jordan. More recently, Diet Prada made a nice fetish-overview of the latest fashion weeks. Balmain had their brown latex suits which fitted Kim Kardashian like a glove. Marni and Stella McCartney had the fluffy rabbit heads that used to belong to the territory of the furry-scene.

At Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello combined three different fetish-y aesthetics in one look: rubbery sex pants, a silk scarf for a hint of asphyxiation and, of course, a fur coat -- the most classic fetish-item, and the ultimate kink of the founding father of masochism: Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch. The models looked classy in the shadows and film-noiresque searchlights. It was slightly erotic, but it certainly didn't have much to do with dark fantasies.

Fetish, evidently, has been dragged out of the realm of sex into the realm of chic. It is more visible and socially acceptable than ever. How long will it take before latex pants become so mainstream that they are not associated with sex anymore, but with sticky, sweaty, weird smelling days at the office?

Probably some time, because of the current pandemic the world is dealing with. Offices are canceled (so we don’t have to wear pants while working), most fashion-events are canceled, and so is parading on the streets in general. A nightmare for the fetish-flâneur. On the plus side, however, all these restrictions offer us a way to rediscover what fetish really means in a private setting, beyond the trendy aspect of it.

As we speak, this is already happening. Shalva Nikvashvili, the Georgian artist known for his haunting masks is now working from home with his husband Sascha Bewersdorff, and they created what could be interpreted as a hybrid between pup-play and shoe-fetish. With a few months left to experiment, whole new aesthetics might emerge out of people’s isolation.

An example of what can happen when restrictions force people to rediscover their fantasies can be found in the work of Jan Švankmajer. The Czech film-maker (who’s almost complete oeuvre was shown last year in the Amsterdam film museum Eye) wasn’t restricted by an epidemic, but by the totalitarian communist regime: in the late 70s he was banned from making his stunning animated films.

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How quarantine is inviting us to get creative with our kinks by Tim Fraanje

March 27, 2020